Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The woes of processing a Driving Permit in Uganda.

It is the norm in every country for the citizens to be expected to have official paper work for company registration, cross border travel and to also be able to operate a motor vehicle.  I am usually one to comply and make sure that I have all these documents in order but for one reason or the other I did not renew my driving permit when it expired after 3 years. 

This is greatly due to the fact that 3 months before its expiry it was stolen with all my documents in a mugging and the process of replacement was pretty tedious. I decided that the most important documents I needed for the time being were the ones I would replace right away such as ATM cards, work identification cards etc.

So my permit expired and I did not renew it for about 2 years and 2 months and when I finally got around to it I really expected the process to be painless since my details were already in the system. I picked up the paper work, got a police letter, advertised the lost permit in the new vision news paper, filled in the renewal paperwork, paid the necessary fees and proceeded to the URA office in Bwaise for processing. It took some time for the processing but I decided the weekend was not a long wait so when I went back the following week and the paperwork was approved with the URA sticker that possessed the bar code I assumed all was in order. On I went to Face Technologies Kyambogo and followed the queue all the way to the service area not expecting to have any issues.

Me: “Good afternoon.”

Face Technology Female Staffer: “Good afternoon, do you recall your previous driving permit number?”

Me: “I am afraid not this is a replacement from a theft.”

Face Technology Female Staffer: “Go back to the customer care counter and they will assist you. After which you will come back.”

Me: “Okay thank you.”

Now please understand this, I moved out of this service processing area to the customer care queue and was assisted with my previous permit number after I gave the lady my details for date of birth. She then sent me back to the processing area from which I had come. However, I did find a queue and did have to wait in line.

Face Technology Female Staffer: “Do you have the number?”

Me: “Yes I do, this is it.”

Face Technology Female Staffer:  “Okay, give me a minute.”

So after less than a minute of keying in my number she began to vigorously scribble on my paper work and handed it over.

Face Technology Female Staffer: “Go to customer care desk.”

I looked down at the cover sheet from my paper work only to see written in red “CANCELLED.”

Me: “What does this mean – CANCELLED?”

Face Technology Female Staffer: “Go to the customer care desk for more details, next!” she said without even butting an eyelid with a vacant look on her face as a robot would.

I walked back to the reception and found a different lady manning it.

Me: “Hello, I was sent to the reception for further clarification on this,” I said as I handed her my paper work.

Receptionist: “Oh yes, your permit is cancelled.”

Me: “Yes I can see that, but what does that mean. What is the implication of that?”

Receptionist: “You start afresh!”

Me: “Excuse me what does that mean, start afresh from which stage.”

Receptionist: “No it is like you have never had a permit before. So you have to get a learner permit, do the driving test and then reprocess the temporary permit.”

Me: “Why, when I am already in the system. Why did they cancel my permit in the first place? What about the fees I have already paid for replacement.”

Receptionist: “You know it is because you delayed to replace it.”

 Me: “So how long between date of expiry and replacement for it to be cancelled.”

Receptionist: “If you exceed 2 years, then it is cancelled no win your case if you had come 2 months back in May we would have processed a renewal.”

Me: “So when did this take effect? Did you inform the public of this change?”

Receptionist: “It is not us it is URA who instructed us to cancel the permits after 2 years. This is the new system. I do not know if they did but it was changed recently.”

Me: “So I begin the process like a learner – is that even fair.”

Receptionist: “No it is not but that is the system.”

Me: “Okay thank you,” Is all I said as I walked away stunned at the time, effort and hoped not also money I had wasted.

I decided to visit the URA office in Bwaise to attempt to get a refund so that I could contemplate restarting the tedious process; only to be told that since it was coming to the end of their financial year in June it may be extremely unlikely I would receive the refund. I did due diligence and went to the relevant offices and got bounced from one desk to another and they all agreed that the payments were captured and my receipts were in order but I never did receive my refund. However through this messy process, I was fortunate to find out that the fees were going to be revised and increased by the end of the financial year as well so I begrudgingly took advantage of this information and quickly redid the entire process. I picked up my permit this week but all I wondered as I held it in my hand is whether this process should be this difficult in the first place. In Rwanda, if you have all the necessary documents in order an individual can register a company in one day.


So when someone is pulled over for not having a driving permit I completely understand because the system is broken and I do not think anyone is even trying to fix it. Only in Uganda. queue

Friday, 18 July 2014

The peril of Wedding dress shopping in Kampala


One sunny Saturday after inquiring around for the best place to shop for wedding dresses, we headed out to 3 places in total but only 2 are worth writing home about.

12:10 Option 1 – The wild card

Much to my surprise one evening on my way home, I saw a man putting up sign posts with ‘Happily Ever After’ pointing to a residence nearby so I decided to make an appointment. 

I recommended it to the bride having following them on Facebook for over a year. I was only hoping that the photographs matched what we would find at the store. On this particular Saturday we quite easily found the place and enjoyed the warm welcome and homey atmosphere that their new space provided.

Store Attendant: “Hello, please come in and have a seat.”

Me: “Hello, I made an appointment about 2 days ago, my sister is looking for a gown for her wedding. Here she is.”

My sister - Bride: “Hello, I like your d├ęcor. So are there any fees for the appointment.”

Me: “Thank you and yes, it is 20,000 for 4 dresses.”

I was going over the album pictures and matching them with the accessories when I heard her say 20,000 for trial and I looked up in shock as a deer in head lights. I was not aware that there was a fee for trying on wedding dresses it reminded me of the consultation fee that you pay to a doctor before he even knows about your condition.

Family friend: “Okay and what if we do not find a dress after trying on the first 4?”

My sister – Bride: “Do you give discounts.”

Store attendant: “Yes we do and you will only pay the fee we agree on once until we find you a dress for your day.”

The haggling over a discount ensued until we got a deal for 15,000 for trial of 4 and not 3 wedding gowns. After about 35 minutes we had tried on all 4 gorgeous gowns and my sister fell in love with just one. However, she decided not to commit to purchasing it until we had visited one of the bigger bridal stores that had been recommended which boasted of over 100 plus dresses.

12:50pm

After this appointment we left with a clear direction of what style suited her body type and we felt well equipped to take on the next appointment.

1:15pm Option 2 – The sure deal or so we thought

Sister’s bridal along Kampala road on Park Royal building was our next stop as the bride had seen quite a few adverts of their store in the bride and groom magazines and the bridal expo. So we visited them hoping that maybe number 2 would be a sure thing after the great start we had at ‘Happily Ever After’ but we were greatly surprised and disappointed. As we walked into the store we were asked to take off our shoes at the entrance so that we did not make the carpet dirty as in turn, this would make the dresses dirty as the brides tried them on. I did not see anything wrong with this so we obliged and headed in.

Gentleman at reception: “Hello, please come in. Are you looking for dresses?”

My sister - Bride: “Yes we are, I made an appointment earlier in the week for today.”

Gentleman at reception: “Okay….,” he responded. As he looked around the store and wandered off with no warning leaving us in the reception area for 3 or 4 minutes.

“Now, this lady will assist you with your appointment for the day.”

Attendant: “You wait, I am coming.”

Family friend: “Can we have seats as we wait for her?”

Gentleman at reception: “Yes! Follow me,” he said as he escorted us into the main show area that had rows and rows of dresses on racks along the walls.
He managed to get us 3 seats as we waited patiently as he paced from side to side searching for other store attendants as more and more brides continued to walk in. The store was like a mad house with brides trying on dresses in different corners of the room in plain sight. This is due to the fact that all the changing rooms were full. The bridal entourages everywhere with some waiting in corridors, attendants running up and down past us looking for dresses.

1:40pm

2 other members of our entourage (my sisters) arrived only to find us waiting for nearly 30 minutes for our attendant to assist us. The bride told her (our attendant) exactly what she was looking for and she was whisked off – to a corner. Yes I did mean a corner and not a changing room.
My sister – Bride: “So what is the fee for trying on dresses?”

Attendant: “20,000 for any 4 dresses that you try on.”

My sister – Bride: “And what happens if I need to try on a few more dresses – say 2 more.”

Attendant: “You pay an additional 20,000.”

The gentleman from the reception would randomly walk into the main show room past us looking for attendants as the brides were getting dressed – this was of course until my other sister told him off but it was so outrageous.

1:55pm

Older sister: “Hey there is a bride trying on a dress I do not think you can cross over there now.”

Gentleman from reception: “Okay.”

Older sister 2: “But these people, there is no sense of privacy at all.”
After putting the bride in 2 old dress I had personally had enough and walked off from where she was changing and sat down beside our party. On dress 3 I walked up to her and did a walk around the dress only to find the thigh area on one side visibly ripped. It was too much for me at that point, I informed the bride and she took a look and after a few minutes of showing the bridal party she changed into her last dress.

2:15pm

Older sister: “But this dress is worse than the one before.”
Me: “Yup it is actually ripped and fraying at the bust line.”

Older sister: “But aren't there any nice newer dresses, why does she keep putting you in old, ugly dresses.”

Attendant: “We will find her a dress even if it takes 4 hours, we have just started. She cannot fail to get one with all these dresses.

4 Hours! I thought to myself, but I guess my sister’s sentiments did the trick and the attendant came back with 2 newer gowns for my sister to choose from for her final trial. But before she could get all the way to my sister in her changing area or rather changing corridor, she was interrupted.

2:40pm

Other Attendant: “Nyabo, where did you find those dresses.”

Attendant: “At the back of the reception area closet alone.”

Other attendant: “And didn’t you wonder why it was alone – that one is for my customer for the wedding which is 2 weeks away. You show her the other one,” she said as she grabbed one of the dresses from our attendants hands evidently annoyed.

This left only 1 option before she would be asked for another 20,000 for the next batch of trials.

Attendant: “Okay you try this one.”

Older sister 2: “This is much better so why were they showing us old dresses.”
My sister – Bride: “How much will this gown cost for hiring?”

Attendant: “It will cost 1, 200,000 UGX.”

My sister – Bride: “So I am the first wearer right?”

Attendant: “No someone has booked it for a wedding in 3 weeks.”

My sister – Bride: “And how much are they paying?”

Attendant: “1,300,000 UGX.”

My sister – Bride: “But that does not make sense.”

2:55 pm
The ambiance aside, the dresses in the show room were smelly, filthy, poorly kept, some if not most in terrible condition and the manner in which the brides were treated was as if they were dollar signs and not human beings. This was not an experience I would recommend for any future brides – the manner in which this business is so commercialized and yet it requires much attention and care for the customer. Such a stark contrast to the one on one attention we received from Happily Ever After Bridal Store. After this account, I need not tell you where we got the brides gown from.




Wednesday, 9 July 2014

When the whole village is your Kin.


Recently I was fortunate to be a part of a traditional marriage celebration (known to Japadhola as Nywom) in the Eastern region of Uganda and it amazed me how different the local populous are these days in stark contrast to when we were younger children. Back then I recall being given gifts whenever we were leaving for Kampala and knowing everyone by name but this time there was such a difference as every face seemed new even though the dialect remained the same. 

However what amused me the most was the change in the status quo of human interaction, every act of kindness is driven by a selfish desire to obtain something from you in return as this following conversation lets on.

Elderly woman: “My goodness how big you are right now – you have surely grown,” she said while I only responded with a vacant smile.

Elderly woman: “Do you know me?”

Me: “No,” I politely responded which caused a frown to flash on her face within in an instance of the words leaving my lips.

Elderly woman: “I am your grandmother the one who carried your mother a long time ago when she was a young baby.”

Me: “Ohhh okay,” I calmly responded as she continued to give me the history of my family line going 4 generations back almost in the same manner a teacher of history would.

After this brief interaction of a couple of minutes I rose from whence I was kneeling and went about my business that had been abruptly brought to a halt by the old ladies education of my family tree. A while later after I had finished everything I needed to in the house as I walked out to the car after saying my goodbye’s I felt a tug at my arm from the side and so I stopped and looked in the general direction.

Me: ‘Yes!”

Elderly woman: “So you will give us a lift up to Nawire.”

Me: “Huh!” with a bizarre look on my face as I tried to understand what had happened in a brief span of 5- 7 minutes since I left her seated at the front of the house.
Then it all made sense - for the brief history she had given, she felt she had created rapport and we had bonded enough thus she was now entitled to transportation to the next sub county on our way out of the village and towards Tororo town and eventually the highway back to Kampala. I was amazed but also saddened that the sweet memories of a place of sweet escape I once called home was no longer the same but before I could take a minute to wrap my head around it all I received a phone call.

Me: “Hello!”

Village Person: “Eh hello, where are you?”

Me: “Home but we are about to leave for Kampala.”
As I was having this conversation, my mind was racing trying to discern the voice so as to match it to a face. Then it hit me this was a person that used my phone to take a call at an earlier function.
Village person: “Eh, okay let me hurry there to see you before you leave.”

Me: “But we are packing the last bits of luggage now and are about to drive off.”

Village person: “But you did not give me anything – send me something.”

Me: “Something what something – but where are you.”

Village person: “You know I just got out of church in Paya.”

Me: “I see, now if you had finished there early and been here you would have received something.”

Village person: “Eh but can’t you wait for me to come before you leave?”

Me: “That is not possible – we are travelling in convoy and I cannot make the rest wait.”

Village person: “Ha but I know you will send me something.”

Me: “But didn’t you know there was a function up to very late yesterday night at home?”

Village person: “Yes!”

Me: “So why didn’t you find out the program for today before you left?”

Village person: “Eh but cousin, it is okay I know you will still send me something.”

Me: “Now how do I send you something when I brought it all the way from Kampala and we have been distributing here at home. The mistake was yours not to be here now.”

Village person: “Hhhmm but I will wait because ... I am sure you will find a way to send me something.”

Me: “Ok I have to drive now – bye,” I said as I hung up the phone bewildered over the conversation I had just had.  


I barely know you and then because of a chance meeting where you followed me around almost the entire day and hounded me – all of a sudden we are close! But for all of you who may be reading this and wondering what ‘something’ means – it is the way that village folk ask you for financial or material items or assistance before you leave for Kampala. So the next time that you are in the East and someone asks if you have something tread lightly or your money purse may be a little lighter or even worse something from your person may go missing if you do not seem too keen on sharing. 

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Even Telecom Technicians need Customer Care training


Everyone in Kampala knows how stressful it is when it comes to dealing with Telecom companies in Uganda in order to get the service which you deserve or paid for. But nothing beats the headache when activating your bundle or better still when you need to get your phone settings done in the event you upgrade to a new device.

 I recently purchased a device from an authorized dealer in Kampala and it was activated before I left for the MTN Lugogo store. I walked up to a free counter and asked which counter I could go to get my MTN internet settings configured. I was directed to a gentleman in the waiting area who had a line of people following him around like a swarm of bees everywhere he went. I decided to do the same until 15 minutes passed when I finally took a seat as I waited for him to return from behind the counter or where ever he had gone. He did not return so I decided after an extra 10 minutes to head to yet another free counter and asked for assistance – the lady asked me to hand over my device which I did and in less than 5 minutes I was on my way home.

I was glad that she had been so helpful and everything seemed to be working fine for about 30 minutes only for my device to stall and finally refuse to connect to the internet with 1 hour.  Therefore I returned to my telecom provider and this time the internet setting gentleman who was too busy the previous day did my settings and I waltzed out thinking that would be the last time I was going to have any issues but boy was I wrong.

After about a week I had problems with my settings once again and for a while I thought my data had run out and I quickly reactivated a new bundle but this did not help. It was funny how I was charged for the bundle but could not activate it. So I called customer care and they made it seem as though the problem was with my device so I gave them the benefit of the doubt and returned to the authorized dealer where I purchased it and after a while of checking he insisted there were no issues with my device. In other wards I was sent back to my telecom provide which I promptly did a few days later when I had the time; this is how these events transpired when I got to the telecom service center.

Me: “Hello, I would like to get my Internet settings done?”

Female Customer Care Staff: “Okay, kindly go to the second last counter and speak to the gentleman with a Nokia shirt.”

Me: “Thank you.”

There were about 7 people in line waiting to see him but I decided I had rather wait than come after all I had been suffering with this issue for almost 2 weeks now. It was eventually my turn after what seemed like half an hour but was only 15 minutes. I explained my case.…
Me: “I came here a week ago and my settings were done and I had to return the following day because the lady did not do it properly and now a week later I am back with the same issue.”

Telecom Internet guy: “Okay so is it just internet that is the issue?”

Me: “No it is internet, I also lost about 50 MB data and 10,000 airtime yesterday – is there a network issue with MTN.” “You informed me the last time I was here I would not have any more issues with my Internet settings.”

Telecom Internet guy: “Ok let me begin with the Internet setting issue – I do not know you. This is my first time to see you.”

Me: “Really, should I give you the day and time I was here last and we could check in your records – after all you always make customers sign after settings have been done.”

Telecom Internet guy: “No madam let me do the settings.”
Me: “Fine!”

I decided to calm down and let him deal with the issue at hand as I patiently waited.
Telecom Internet guy: “Is this a dual sim.”

Me: “Yes!”

Telecom Internet guy: “Can I switch MTN sim card to sim 1.”
Me: “Yes.”

20 minutes later
I turned away from the TV monitor in the lobby where I was watching a series that came to an end only to catch the telecom internet gentleman hand over my device to a more senior individual next to him who had a pile of mobile money registration forms to enter.

Telecom Internet guy: “Where did you buy this phone?”

Me: “From an authorized agent.”

Supervisor: “Which sim is for MTN?”

Me: “Sim 1”

Telecom Internet guy: “You did not buy your phone from any of our shops – huh that must be the problem.”

Me: “No it is not, I purchased it from an authorized agent and I have already double checked to make sure that the problem was not with the device.”

He also had a go at sorting out my settings for a while and after a back and forth interaction between the two of them and irritated stares from the line of 10 people behind me, I stepped aside and the more senior supervisor began to deal with the people behind me.

Telecom Internet guy: “I am taking your phone to the tech department let me come back madam,” he said as he disappeared through a side door.”

He did not even wait for me to respond he just walked off in haste as if things were really tight for him at that moment. The entire line of customers was attended to and even more individuals came and went before the internet setting guy returned and during this time I had watched two 30 minute Nat Geo mini documentaries as I stood at the counter waiting for my issue to be sorted.

No I was not offered a seat, I was not updated on progress, I was not told what was taking so long and no I did not get an apology when the gentleman returned.

About an hour and 50 minutes after I had walked into the Telecom customer care center, the gentleman returned from the tech department and handed me my device.

Telecom Internet guy: “Eh finally, here is your phone.”

Me: “So is everything sorted out?”

 Telecom Internet guy: “Yes it is.”

Me: “So what was the problem? I am asking this because I do not want to come back for a fourth time.”

Telecom Internet guy: “It is very technical even if I explain you will not understand.”

Me: “wow,” I responded sarcastically, “Okay So I will not be coming back for anything to do with internet settings? What about my bundle I lost and air time?”

Telecom Internet guy: “Eh I had forgotten there was also that. Okay write down your phone number here and your issues and we will get back to you when it is sorted out.”

Me: “Okay, but I hope it is sooner than later.”

I picked up my phone and walked out but I left thinking – the staff at this customer center need a refresher course in customer care ASAP. There are simply something’s that you should never say to a customer – what happens when you are dealing with a customer who is a telecom and software engineer?


“It is very technical even if I explain you will not understand.” – Really!